LAWRENCE BLOCK – The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams. Bernie Rhodenbarr #6. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1994. Onyx, paperback; 1st printing, June 1995.

   When this book came out, there had been a gap of over ten years between this one and the previous entry in Lawrence Block’s “Burglar” series, The Burglar Who Painted like Mondrian, and as I recall at the time, fans were beginning to wonder if there ever would be a new one.

   If anyone knows more of the story than I do, you’re welcome to say more in the comments. For whatever reason Block decided to pick up the series again, I for one am glad he did. This is the funniest detective story I’ve read in a long time. And not only that, there are five more in the series that I have not read, and I’m more than ready to start catching up.

   By the end of this book, some changes in Bernie’s life have taken place. He has a new cat to help him in the bookstore, his worries about paying the rent are over, and he will have a partner of sorts in his other occupation, and there’s no secret what that is, is there?

   This one begins in Bernie’s shop. No bookseller can be up on the prices he has in stock, not unless he’s a specialist in every area under the sun, and as book opens Bernie gets snookered when he sells a First Edition copy of Sue Grafton’s B Is for Burglar for $100 when it’s worth $500. It also turns out that the buyer is Bernie’s new landlord, and he’s about to jack up the rent for $875 a month to a staggering $10,500. That’s some stagger.

   (For what it’s worth, a first edition Burglar is not worth too much more than that today. There is a copy on Abebooks right now in Fine/Fine condition with an asking price of $540. Bernie’s new landlord was buying it as an investment, but I’d say that he’d have been a lot better off buying up Manhattan real estate, rather than first edition mystery fiction. Of course, he would have the books to read.)

   In any case, Bernie is tempted to go back into his former business again. He resists, and he almost succeeds, but he’s grown used to running the store, and he wants to keep it. Here, or soon thereafter, is where a set of 1950 Ted Williams cards comes in. And not only are the cards missing, but on his first burglaring foray he’s been on in a while, Bernie also finds a dead man totally naked in a bathroom that’s sealed up from the inside as tight as a drum.

   It’s a complicated story, with far too many details to go into here. You’re far better off reading it for yourself. Everybody and everything is connected to everything and everybody else in this story, and it takes Bernie, with some persuasion, to solve the case, with all of the suspects (and more) gathered together in one room in one of the grandest finales I’ve read all year.

   And, oh, remember Sue Grafton being mentioned a while back? This is the book in which Block has some fun with her, making up titles such as F Is for Stop, T Is for Sympathy, and G Is for Spot. Not to mention Bernie’s good lesbian pet groomer friend Carolyn wondering aloud whether Kinsey Millhone may be of the same sexual orientation, or not. I do not know what Sue Grafton’s reaction may have been.

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NOTE:   Based on the comment left by David P., I’ve revised the fourth and fifth paragraphs considerably from the earlier version of this review.